MLR Inside Scoop: New England Free Jacks with Tadhg Leader
Leaving Ireland in 2014 for a brief spell in Italy ahead of a move to America, Tadhg Leader’s rise to prominence in Major League Rugby (MLR) was by no means an easy one. His time at Connacht was shadowed by injury, but it was a move to the United States that resurrected his career.
Moving to Boston initially to join the Boston Irish Wolfhounds, Leader enjoyed the American lifestyle so much that he elected to study at Lindenwood, a university with a strong rugby program. Following strong performances for Lindenwood, Leader was approached by San Diego Legion to join them for the inaugural season of MLR.
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“Please don’t catch me, please don’t catch me” 💭 • • • Leading the boys out in front of packed stands Saturday was an unforgettable experience. Looking forward to seeing everyone for our final game of the #caracup this Sunday vs Leinster A at #harvard. Exciting times ahead for the @nefreejacks! #nefreejacks #usarugby #mlr #munsterrugby #touchdown 📷 @coolrugbyphotos
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The summer after leading the Legion to the semi-finals of the Championship series, Leader was made aware of a potential new MLR team in Boston, the city he fell in love with upon arrival in America.
“When I initially moved to the States, Boston was where I landed. A club called Boston Irish Wolfhounds took me in and were so welcoming. I enjoyed my time in Boston so much over that three months that I knew I wanted to stay in the States.
“Then I went out to college at Lindenwood and then onto San Diego. In between all that, I would return to Boston. Any break I got from school, I returned to Boston.” Leader said, “It became a home away from home. Once I got wind that a team was looking to move here, I was pretty quickly talking to the key people and trying to figure out how I could come home.
“I did really enjoy my time in San Diego. They were brilliant and really opened up a lot of doors for me, especially with the USA national side, but I could always see myself coming back here, probably sooner than anticipated, but I am very grateful and thankful for what San Diego did for me.”
It was off the back of Leader’s performances for San Diego in MLR that gained Leader the recognition of Eagles Head Coach Gary Gold. Touring with the USA in the fall of 2018, but not playing for the Eagles, Leader made his USA debut against Chile in this years Americas Rugby Championship, scoring a try and two conversions as the USA ran out 71-8 winners in the tournament opener.
— New England Free Jacks (@NEFreeJacks) September 15, 2019
Several months later Leader was leading the New England Free Jacks in their exhibition fixtures against the academy squads from Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. Playing at various venues around Boston, Leader says that the competition gave the Free Jacks players an opportunity to see what it was like performing at a high level.
“The Cara Cup was a struggle at times on the field, but it was definitely worthwhile. I think a lot of the players who have only played domestic club rugby in the area. It really opened their eyes to the level of play and where we need to be next season in major League Rugby.
“Some guys stepped up, which was great to see, and others struggled. Overall, we learnt a whole lot and by the final game against Munster, it was quite competitive, which was encouraging.” Leader said, “Off the field, the staff learnt a lot about hosting games.
“It can be cold at nights in Boston, so making sure that everyone is entertained, whether that’s at halftime, before or after the game and the feedback from the fans was amazing. Come February next year when we play our first home game, those four games in the Cara Cup would definitely have stuck with us.” Leader said.
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MEET THE FLYHALVES | @timguillimin @tadhgleader Checkout their full bios and more at thefreejacks.com and lock in your Founding Member season tickets today! #LightTheLantern #MountUp #NEFreeJacks ## Timothée Guillimin: 🇫🇷 23-year-old 5’10” 185 lb native of Montpelier, France, Timothée began playing rugby at 6 years old. He was selected for both @francerugby U16 and U18 teams, before playing in the European Challenge Cup for @agen_rugby. In 2017 Tim played in the MLR with the @austineliterugby, and became second in the inaugural MLR season in both scoring and conversions made. Tadhg Leader: 🇮🇪🇺🇸 27-year-old 6’2” 205 lb born and raised Galwegian. Tadhg represented @irishrugby at the U-19 and U-20 levels before running out for @connachtrugby A. He moved to Italy to play for club Rugby Badia ASD. Tadhg has long been a player and coach with the @wolfhoundsrugby, and in the fall of 2018 graduated from @lindenwoodrugby in St Louis, MO. He captained the @sdlegion in the 2018 MLR season, and led the team as the top points scorer and a semi-final appearance. Tadhg became @usarugby Eagle #532 after being capped in the 2019 Americas Rugby Championship.
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The Cara Cup was also an opportunity for some of the Free Jacks to develop as a team. Leader is one of four Irish-born players in the squad, with Sean McNulty, Conor Kindregan and John Poland being the others.
“Having four Irish guys in key positions in the squad, is massive. Around the city there is so many Irish people and Irish sports fans. You can go to watch an Irish Rugby team in a pub and usually it’s pretty busy. Hopefully with having a few Irish heads in our team, people will be more attached.
“Having said that, we have some guys in our team with Irish heritage, Danny Collins being the example. He is an American-born kid and locals are very proud of that.” Leader said, “We’re going to have a lot of kiwi’s, French guys and a lot of talented American players as well. Hopefully for every fan, American or not, they will find an attachment to the team.”
Leader went on loan for two weeks at NOLA Gold during last season and said he noticed a raise in the standard of Major League Rugby; “Just training daily with New Orleans, I would say that the level has stepped up, but also the general professionalism. The guys had spent another year in a professional league and can understand what that entails day to day.
“Even keeping an eye on the games, I think it is fair to say that the league has stepped up and the quality of players that we are bringing in is pretty impressive. The biggest thing to me is the idea of what it takes to be a professional and the education and understanding around that. That has probably been the biggest shift I have seen. So, when we jump back in next season, it should be a pretty big change from year one to year three.”
— New England Free Jacks (@NEFreeJacks) September 23, 2019
The Free Jacks will be kicking off their first MLR season game in February against Rugby United New York. That game will begin what is expected to be one of Major League Rugby’s fiercest rivalries.
“I think every team is so strong. I know certain teams struggled in the season just past, but from what I hear, they’re doing a great job recruiting.” Leader said, “It’s going to be massively competitive and it’s brilliant that we’re going to have a traditional season.
“We have a few weeks on the road, so that’s going to be a massive learning curve there, but we do need to hit the ground running before we start playing home games. Every team is going to be pretty stacked, which hopefully results in a good on field product and we continue to see things grow, because the growth from year one to three has been massive and long may it continue.”
In the lead up to the new season, the Free Jacks will be continuing their work in the community, aiming to bring rugby to as many people in New England as possible.
To view the New England Free Jacks 2020 schedule, click here.
The Free Jacks Founding Member Season Tickets are now available, click here for more information.
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